Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Greatness of Esther

The sages said: When a hind is thirsty, she digs a hole, fixes her horns in it, and in her distress cries softly to the Holy One. The Holy One causes the deep to come up, and the deep causes water to spring up for her. So, too, Esther: when wicked Haman decreed cruel decrees against Israel, she, in her distress, began to cry softly in prayer to the Holy One, and the Holy One answered her.

This sure plays to the female stereotype. Esther was successful because she cried, not because she took the initiative and courage to go to Ahasuerus and risk her life. Also Esther led the community, she told everyone to fast as a way of pushing G!d and later put forth rulings with Mordechai..

R. Judah bar Simon taught: You find that when a house in which a snake nests is fumigated with a hind's horn or a woman's hair, the snake immediately flees. So, too, Deborah and Esther were as effective as a hind's horn, for Deborah did not budge until she destroyed Sisera and his hosts; and Esther did not budge until she had Haman and his ten sons hanged.

Of course it seems logical to compare Esther and Deborah since they are both women. But they were so different. Esther does use her femininity while Deborah went out to war. Again, the leaning is to praise within the context of the female stereotype even when the Tanach goes beyond that stereotype. I remember studying Shoftim (Judges) with an Orthodox Rabbi. I was amazed at how negative the midrash on Deborah was. She unlike Esther seemed to break the stereotype completely and had to be brought down to a lower level.


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